State policy changes aimed at making childcare more accessible

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services unveiled new policy changes, aimed at making childcare more accessible, as parents deal with online and hybrid learning.

The Department laid out new requirements for learning pods, which are specifically designed for remote learning. That’s where parents take turns looking after each other’s children during the school day.

Kelly Bekelja had the option of all virtual learning, or all in-school instruction for her son, a 2nd grader at St. Joan of Arc in Hershey, and chose the in-person option.

“If it was virtual, I would not have been able to work. My husband, he works from home every other week, he has to be in the office every other week, so I would be the one to stay home,” said Bekelja, “I’m not super happy with my decision to do that, but I’m also not happy to keep him home. He’s an only child, and he really needed socialization.”

Choosing between childcare and working is not a decision PA Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller wants parents to have to make.

“That’s why two weeks ago the Department of Human Services announced some policy changes, designed to help families navigate this new world of virtual learning, telecommuting and virus mitigation,” said Miller.

A licensed child care certification is not needed for learning pods, where parents take turns looking after each other’s children on a routine basis, while virtual learning is happening. But there are still several requirements, if there are more than six children taking part, including a COVID 19 health and safety plan, and an emergency plan.

The state also announced relaxed restrictions for unlicensed part-day school programs like summer camps.

Parents/guardians who want to establish a learning pod of more than 6 (but no more than 12) children are required to:

Develop a COVID-19 Health and Safety Plan aligned with the Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) guidelines and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Develop a plan to address evacuation and family notification in the event of an emergency. Families should also notify local emergency management agencies of the pod so that they know where groups of children are gathering and can respond appropriately in the event of an emergency.

Ensure that every space where children gather has a functioning fire-detection system on all levels of the facility or residence.

Ensure compliance with the Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law. Anyone working with or supervising children must undergo a background check. Also ensure that every adult who supervises children understands that they are a mandated reporter who is required to report suspected child abuse. More information is available here.

Notify DHS of the pod’s plan to care for school-age children during the 2020-2021 school year by completing an attestation form, which is available in this policy document. Programs will be subject to monitoring and must allow DHS representatives access if they arrive at the service location and present a commonwealth-issued ID badge.

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